Monday, January 26, 2009

New Year's Day Firecracker Ceremony

I ventured to Chinatown today to experience the Firecracker Festival. To ward off evil spirits, this festival exploded 600,000 firecrackers (and banged on several drums). The noise was so loud it was CRAZY. Almost everyone was covering their ears. It was more about sound than lights. Kids threw poppers and pulled these crackers that released all this bright, curled paper—kinda like confetti but lots bigger (like curled ribbon).

There was a dragon dance, and then—this was the coolest thing—there were a couple teams of two dragons each and they ran through the streets of Chinatown, with these bands of drummers behind them. They'd go to banks, restaurants, and shops and do this wild dance outside, until someone from inside came out and gave them something.

Although there was plenty of amazing food everywhere, Chinatown borders Little Italy, so I couldn't resist ducking a street over for some manicotte—perfect, hearty stuff for such a cold day. Oh, and some pignoli cookies!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lunar New Year at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

I walked over to the Botanic Garden this morning, and am I ever glad I braved the cold to do so! I can’t wait to expore the Garden in warmer weather, but the Lunar New Year festivities were all indoors. I was especially impressed with the Qi Shu Fang Peking Opera. The costumes and makeup were breathtaking, as were the acrobats, martial artists, and dancers. I took a lot of pictures. My favorite character was the Monkey King—because he made me think of Monkey Boy nephew! (And my niece, of course! I was missing them bigtime today).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Eating My Way Through Brooklyn II

My friends Anna & Rob trekked down from the Upper West Side tonight. It was wonderful to see them. We went to dinner at Convivium Osteria, a place I’ve been passing by and wanting to check out. On a bitterly cold night, it was cozy, toasty, and like being in Europe. We sat tucked in a corner at a big rustic wooden table. The food? Lovely. I had braised rabbit, Rob had duck legs, and Anna had a green apple and cinnamon ravioli. The chocolate cake for dessert was so dense and rich that Anna and I couldn’t finish a piece we were sharing!

The Benefits of Walking a Dog

New Yorkers love their dogs. I absolutely adore “my” current dog—Stella. I call her Stella Bella or Stellaluna (one of my favorite children’s books). She and I have become great buddies and I look forward to our walks.

Stella is slow. She takes her time “reading” each tree and fence and hydrant. Having a dog gives a perfect cover to “gawk” and scope out the great houses. If I were just standing there alone—looking up at someone’s gorgeous door, or staring at what they’d done to their little courtyard, or watching two interesting old kerchiefed ladies talking on the corner—everyone would think I was being creepy and would look at me askance. Having a dog lends a certain amount of invisibility—you just blend in to the background. I’m not eavesdropping, I’m just waiting for my dog to pee.

I’ve started to recognize the other neighborhood dogs and their people. There’s a comfort to that. It makes me feel like I’m part of the community. I have little conversations with these people. We greet each other by our dogs’ names. “How is Stella this morning?” the man with the pug always asks me.

Stella makes people smile. Even though she’s older, there’s something cute and spry about her energy. I like that having her with me makes it look like I live here. Oh, wait a minute...for the next three months, I DO!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Time to Snap Out of It

Okay, I sometimes feel guilty with many of my friends telling me “You’re doing what I wish I could do” and “I’m so envious.” It’s time to come clean and admit it’s not always a glorious adventure. I caught myself this week, in spite of all the inaugural joy, feeling very blue and having days of doubt. The same thing happened when I first put my stuff in storage, and when I first arrived in CT, so I think it’s just part of the pattern, but I’d catch myself thinking, “What am I doing? Why am I here?” There’s a certain amount of loneliness and restlessness.

This all seemed magnified on a particularly cold day here when my printer broke, I missed two calls from my friend in Portugal (and my stupid American cell phone wouldn't allow me to call her back), I lost a brand new Metro card, I was missing my family, my website wasn't working properly, I saw a mouse in my kitchen...and I stepped into an icy pool of slush from a leaking fire hydrant and the slush went over my ankle and into my shoe.

Yep, I felt miserably far from home, and the city seemed overwhelmingly loud and dirty.

Compounding all this funkiness was the fact that I wasn’t writing. I was perplexed by my ability to waste so much time! I couldn’t even use location as my excuse and say, “Oh, the city is just so distracting,” because I wasn’t really going out and exploring all that much, either! So, Thursday and Friday I hunkered down and WROTE. Wrote long hours, with my French press coffee, in my jammies. That was the remedy. I’m living this life, after all, so that I CAN write long hours. That was the key, and I'm happy to report I feel I'm getting my groove back.

I think I had put a lot of pressure on myself to go out and “experience all NY has to offer” every day, every night, ALL the time. But I look at the all the people here: they have jobs they go to. do I.

I also cut myself a break because I arrived at a brutally cold time. The idea of going out exploring wasn’t all that inviting. Really, really cold temps make me want to hibernate, no matter how intoxicating and stimulating the city! I promise not to let the cold daunt me completely...and actually, the current weather makes for very good, focused writing days.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Huge Ego Boost and Publisher's Lunch

Had a lovely lift this morning, receiving an e-mail from one of my favorite authors, Lesley Kagen. Her first novel, Whistling in the Dark, is one of my very favorites (it’s listed among my favorite books on my HarperCollins site and it’s the book I most frequently recommend to book clubs I visit). I was incredibly honored to be asked to provide a blurb for her next book. Honored, and well, a little bit greedily excited that I’ll get to read the book way early instead of waiting for the publication date! Woo hoo!

Lesley had seen my new deal on Publisher’s Lunch. That’s always such a thrill, seeing your work listed there among everyone else’s—sometimes right there with the big names. It’s one of those startling, satisfying moments of recognizing, “I am really doing this.” The deal report is brief but still worthy of flutters:

"Among yesterday's 20 new deals: Film rights to Edgar Sawtelle to Universal and Tom Hank's Playtone; TV rights to MJ Rose's The Reincarnationist to Warner Bros. as a pilot for Fox; Katrina Kittle's MARRIAGE ADVICE FROM THE CHURCH OF ST. EQUINE to Harper; a book about the Tampa Bay Rays for ESPN Books; Biggest Loser runner-up Julie Hadden's Fat Chance: How God Changed My Life Through Reality TV, to Guideposts; and more.

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS author Katrina Kittle's MARRIAGE ADVICE FROM THE CHURCH OF ST. EQUINE, in which a veterinarian and mother spends her first post-divorce year surrounded by a motley crew of animals who teach her about forgiveness, healing, and love as she examines the meaning of marriage while her teenaged daughter's romance develops its own complications, to Claire Wachtel at Harper by Lisa Bankoff at ICM.”

There it is...six years, a new job, a divorce, countless moves, and now another new job later...the book is finally a book.

I think that calls for a latte at Gorilla Coffee!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day!

I went to an Inauguration Party in Manhattan with champagne in my backpack, a spring in my step, and joy in my heart! Sam and Ed made fabulous gumbo and we all watched the event unfold. The speech was thrilling to me. As a word person, I’m just so moved by the beauty of Obama’s language. His sentences are not only COMPLETE, but complex. His metaphors are sustained. Even his use of prepositions is elegant. Ahh...

Let me not forget to mention the content of the speech as well. So moving. So inspiring. I know it’s cliched, and we’ve all been gushing so much we’re undoubtedly setting ourselves up for some disappointment, but I truly do feel hopeful. I joined in on the call to service and contacted Housing Works Book Store (they provide services to the homeless with HIV and AIDS here in NYC) and will be volunteering for them.

Later, I went to a celebratory dinner with my friend Sarah. We were at the V-Spot and the entire place was abuzz with happiness and excitement, nearly every table talking politics.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Back to Work

I have been here a week already?! That doesn’t seem possible! I have this panicked feeling that I haven’t done anything yet! I guess I can give myself that week for “settling in” and getting familiar. But enough—time to get back to work. For real.

Lots of lovely snow fell today on Martin Luther Day. After working three hours on a young adult story, I walked through Prospect Park watching families sledding and building snow men, dogs romping in the snow, and plenty of snowball fights. When I returned to my building, the front of my black coat and hat were covered in nearly a half-inch of white.

I’m having a great time hanging out with Stella, the dog I’m sitting. She has a ferocious bark that terrifies delivery people at the door, but once you see her you realize her bark is far worse than her bite. She’s old, nearly blind, and epileptic. She is also funny and sweet as can be. She loves to root around in the snow, and then elicits “Aww”’s from strangers as she trots around with a snow-covered snout.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Eating My Way Through Brooklyn

A friend of mine calls living in Brooklyn like “living on a resort—you just walk out your door each day and decide what country’s cuisine you’d like to enjoy.” I see his point. He decided on Moroccan Saturday night. We went to the Olive Vine in Carroll Gardens (316 Court Street). Wonderful. A warm beet salad that was so earthy, savory, and subtly spiced. I happen to love beets; I know a lot of people don’t, but this was incredible. The fresh bread comes all puffed up like a mushroom. You pull it apart or puncture it with your fork and it flattens to something like Indian naan bread. And the babaganoush—words cannot express. I know, I know, how different can a babaganoush actually be? But I’m serious, this was like nothing I’d ever had before. There was a haunting, smoky flavor to it that made it want to lick the plate. The tajine chicken was so tender it fell from the bone. I opted for it with artichoke hearts, peas, and olives. My friend had his with golden raisins and onion, a very sweet combo—when it cooled, it tasted like apple pie.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fourth Book Deal!

It’s official! My fourth novel will be with HarperCollins! I’m doing a little dance of joy! More details to come! Woo hoo hoo!

Experiencing Brooklyn's Target, or "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

So today I walked to Atlantic Center to go to Target. Now, mind you, I’d been warned. I’d read the reviews online and had friends tell me “This isn’t like a Target in Ohio.” No, no it’s not, but it’s a lot more entertaining, I’ll tell you that! First of all, the Targets in Ohio are all one-floor giant warehouse buildings. This was two stories, with an escalator...and with security guards. Now, there’s security at Ohio stores, but they tend not to be so visible and ever-present, mostly patrolling the parking lot.

My shopping strategy realization will seem like a big obvious “duh” to many, but as I piled my basket high with cleaning supplies, detergents, and a ream of paper, it struck me: I can only buy what I can carry. And I can only buy what I have room to store. Gone for now are the days of piling my car trunk full of items bought in bulk. Not a judgement one way or the other, just an observation about city living.

While checking out, two women got in a huge fight—I think about a man, not a purchase—and security actually pulled them apart and took them away. I felt like I was live at a Jerry Springer show.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Buckeye in Brooklyn

January 14, 2009

I have arrived in my wonderful Park Slope neighborhood and am happy as can be...even though my arrival coincided with a dramatic plummet in temperature! It’s c-c-cold and windy, but I still walked and walked and walked my first day, getting the lay of the land and finding my pharmacy, my grocery stores, my UPS store, my yoga class options (wow--when someone told me “just turn left” when I inquired about yoga in Park Slope, they weren’t kidding!), where to buy my paper, my coffee beans, my Indian food, and my chocolate. Taking care of priorities.

Walking near the Gowanus Canel, I hit a stretch that was pretty desolate and bleak (the day was gray and bitter). I crossed a street and came across about twenty caskets all lined up on an icy sidewalk. That’s an image! (I had inadvertently stumbled upon the Brooklyn Casket Company).

Later, on Baltic, I had a nice “New York moment” with two strangers. A little backstory: I constantly angst about my hair. Specifically, whether to grow it out or keep it short. I have always fantasized about having long, lovely hair that I could put up or tie back and style in a variety of ways...but the reality is that I have fine, thin hair and the longer it is, the more stringy and limp it looks. I recently abandoned yet another attempt to grow it long, (and, of course, then immediately regretted cutting it...sigh...same old story). So, I’m strolling along on Baltic and I end up walking alongside two young men who are laughing and joking and having a great time. As I pass them, one says, “Short hair. Nice. That takes confidence.” I glanced back over my shoulder and smiled. He said, “For real. It looks good on you, lady.” I laughed and said, “Thanks. You made my day.”

He had no idea.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

January 1, 2009

I’ve had an incredible, remarkable year and I’m so, so grateful. I look back on 2008 and grin: I started the year last January, letting my former school know that I was leaving teaching...and I did it. That still amazes me. I did it. With the economy tanking, I walked away from a salary and benefits and I couldn’t be happier. My alarm goes off early in the morning and I smile and do a little dance (like a kid on Christmas morning) because I get to get up and go do what I love all day long. That’s how I feel: I get to do this! I am determined not to take it for granted. I savor it.

I’m also so grateful to all my wonderful readers and the many book clubs I’ve visited. I treasure the e-mails and letters, and the encouragement and support. You’re the people keeping my books alive and I thank you from the bottom of my joyful heart.

I’m thankful that my Year as a Gypsy has taught me so much about myself...not the least of which is how little material possessions matter. My life is much simpler—and yet much richer—for it.

I’m thankful that the universe has unfolded time and time again, giving me signs that I’m on the right path. Every day is a gift and I look forward to unwrapping each one.

It’s difficult to think of further wishes or resolutions. I do resolve to practice what Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love. Resolve to read this if you haven’t already!) calls “diligent joy”—to savor and pay attention to all the beauty and happiness in our lives. I know, I know, this sounds so corny, but it works!!!

My wishes for 2009 include the big ones: financial stability for the world and more specifically for the friends and family I know who have lost jobs, an end to violence in the lives of every child on the planet, the continued safety of our President Elect, and for everyone (including myself) to find HAPPINESS and CLARITY.

Happy New Year! May 2009 hold great things in store for you and yours!